Prologue:

It all started on Monday with an innocent late night reading session.  I was in the middle of an amazing book by Jaqueline Woodson and I told myself I’d finish when the chapter ended, but alas! The chapter left me even more enthralled and I HAD to keep reading.

The next morning, the tell-tale symptoms were a reminder of why I go to sleep before 2 a.m.  Stuffy nose, slight sore throat…I groaned in agony.  I knew that the next couple days were going to be murder and they were.

On Wednesday, I had sinus congestion that made me feel like my head was a ticking time bomb.  After many doses of Sudafed, I felt like I could survive this cold.  I guess I should mention that here in VA, the weather has been changing quite rapidly (and daily) so one never knows what the appropriate work wear would be.  Regardless, my congestion was subsiding at the same time my voice started to wane.

Not a very good symptom when you have to teach three classes a day.

On Thursday, my congestion, as was my voice.  I thought about all of my symptoms and decided I could deal with the muteness.  I could deal with the slight sore throat.  I could not, however, deal with the sinus congestion that plagued me every day, forcing me to try crazy remedies and homeopathic solutions.

So it was on that fateful Friday that I set out to research why a nose gets stuffy when all you want it to do is run and why do the nostrils rotate stuffiness from time to time?  I don’t know if you have ever experienced it, but it’s quite possibly the most annoying part of a cold.  One nostril clears and magically the other one gets congested and then after a couple hours or a day, the nostrils switch roles.  And it goes on and on and on until you can breathe easily again.  How frustrating!

So without further adieu, I am going to share with you the murder of the congested sinus cavity.

Nose Congestion Video

Contrary to popular belief, nasal congestion is not caused by excess mucus, but by inflamed tissues and vessels that line your nose.  They can become inflamed for a number of reasons, but the truth of the matter is that it is a “safety feature” embedded in your body to keep unwanted germs from invading your body.  When your tissue and vessels become inflamed, it’s because your immune system is sending out histamines (hys-ta-meens) like microscopic soldiers to fight whatever germ has gotten past the jungle of nasal hair.  Histamines can also be a cause of stuffy noses due to allergies.  Your immune system senses an invader (the allergen) and reacts immediately, so as to stop the invasion.

It’s a pretty cool system, but the question still remains — why do both nostrils become congested and then switch from congested to clear?

After some extensive research, I finally found the answer.  Your nostrils, like a team, split the workload.  Throughout the day, they will divvy up the workload of congestion and decongestion, switching roles every couple of hours.  This is called a “nasal cycle.”  Apparently, this occurs every day, but when you have a cold or allergies, the process is more evident because of the extremely inflamed tissues and vessels.

There are two good reasons why this nasal cycle must take place.  The first reason is because the cycle helps our sense of smell more complete.  Crazy, right?  Well, there are scent molecules that break down at a faster rate than others.  Some smells are easier detected in a fast stream of air (the decongested nostril) and some smells are easier detected in a slower airstream (the congested nostril).  The second reason is because like all other body parts with specific functions, your nose serves as a humidifier and a filter.  The nasal cycle give the mucus, tissues, vessels and cilia (the hairs up your nose) in each nostril a much needed break from the constant onslaught of air you breathe in every day.  This also prevents your nose from becoming extremely dry, which oftentimes leads to cracking and bleeding.

Isn’t it nice to know that when you’ve become vulnerable from an illness your immune system is there to fight for you and protect you from further infection? I know that the next time — which hopefully won’t be for a LONG time — I get the symptoms of a cold again,  I’m in good hands…or…nostrils?

Anyway, make sure you thank your nose because your nose knows how to fight for you.

Thanks for reading and remember to always wonder!

<3 Wonder Family Nixon

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